The Unlikely Entrepreneur — A reality check on starting a business
I thought that creating a business would be hard, challenging me logically and presenting me with the greatest challenge in my career — but I would have no idea the impact it would have on me mentally, pushing and stretching me in ways I’d have never imagined.
Let’s start with a bit of background.
I’d describe myself as an emotional person, guilty of overthinking my interactions, often worrying what people think and how I’m perceived.
I’d also class myself as a fairly average individual, of middling intelligence, but with an ironclad will and a relentless work ethic. I’ve got my dad to thank for that.
My MO was always to do 10% more than my peers. This worked well at school and early on in my career, whereby it was pretty easy to outperform others.
My first ‘jobs’ were sales roles and when you’re given a set of rules to play by and when the competition simply wants to do as little as possible to get by, it was no great challenge to be ‘successful’.
This system has a flaw however.
When you step out from the comfort of a corporate company and attempt to create one of your own, your competition are no longer your co-workers, but multi-national organisations.
This created two problems for me.
Having done very well at my previous company, the fear of failure here was very real.
Secondly, having only benchmarked myself to my peers and leadership team, I was now comparing both myself and our company to those at such a ridiculous level, that the scale of the challenge seemed demoralisingly big.
It doesn’t help when you’re surrounded by articles documenting the many triumph against adversity and (seemingly) overnight success stories that are glamorised in start-up culture, but for me they didn’t serve to inspire, only deflate.
With all of these stories written with the benefit of hindsight, hailing the importance of learning from mistakes, it’s hard to gain an understanding of what starting a business like until you actually start.
I didn’t take long before I gave up reading another article on the subject, as it soon became apparent that no amount of reading will prepare you for what reality has in store and the choices and mistakes that I needed to make in order to move forward.
Creating a business is hard. There’s nothing new there, but I’m going to offer a perspective of what it’s like on the journey rather than at the end of it.
For an insecure person, it would probably seem an odd choice to open myself up to constant rejection. Creating a business and trying to get others to buy into your vision is both incredibly liberating and soul-crushingly lonely. Trying to motivate yourself after yet another ‘no’ never gets any easier.
In such pressured and emotionally-charged environments, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.
I found myself losing sleep and waking up in cold sweats worrying about losing customers, how we’ll meet our investors’ revenue expectations and if we are delivering on our promises to our customers.
Couple this with the insane pace that a small business runs at — having many responsibilities means that every day, many micro-decisions need to be made, which, when your predisposed to overanalysing how things affect you personally, creates quite the mental challenge.
That’s putting it lightly.
In fact, my head constantly felt heavy and cloudy, like I couldn’t see or think clearly. In this kind of mental state, interpersonal relationships suffered, I could come across combative when my colleagues were trying to be constructive and unable to give my full thought to situations.
Then, it happened.
One night I couldn’t sleep, so I went to sit downstairs, my heart started pounding, palms seating and my head spinning.
I think that’s called an anxiety attack.
When faced with a situation like this, you’re faced with 2 choices:
1. Run away from it (back to the safety of a familiar corporate environment)
2. See it as an opportunity to understand and address this apparent weakness.
Believe me, I’ve wanted throw in the towel my times (just ask my CEO), as a father of two young children and all the typical pressures and work-life balance challenges that brings, at times a corporate comfort blanket looked incredibly inviting. But my iron will wouldn’t let me give in.
Having flirted with the idea once before, but lost confidence, I knew I now needed some guidance and this was time to see a therapist.
It’s an odd feeling. I kind of felt I’d failed to deal with my issues myself, it was like admitting defeat (silly, I know) and the experience was a surreal one.
The situation (the sofa, the layout of the room) and the therapists mannerisms were just like you’d see on TV, but the reality was that rather than being offered ‘solutions’ I was just given space to talk to someone with zero judgement.
Just saying all of this stuff out loud was such a cathartic experience, as a satisfying as a spring clean.
I had expected to be offered solutions for my stress and anxiety or maybe given a reason for being like I am (I’ll still blame my dad for my inability to take the easy road) but the best thing he said:
This and creating some Affirmations (which I’ll share here) has been transformative.
My personality traits haven’t changed, it’s just that these gives me more perspective, it’s like you’ve stepped back from a situation and have the power to analyse it above and beyond your immediate emotional reaction.
It’s also an incredible thing when you realise that situations are bigger than you and just that understanding takes the immediate emotion of out things.
Once emotion is removed, clarity prevails.
The daily reflective process of meditation gives so much perspective and really importantly for me, it’s allowed me focus on success in my context, not someone else’s.
I know ContentCal will go on to achieve great things, but if for some reason it doesn’t, I can still sit back, smile and be incredibly proud of the journey I’ve been on.
This part is very personal to me, but anyone struggling with anxiety in a similar context, I’d definitely recommend creation some affirmations of your own.
Here’s are my affirmations, these are what I return to when I feel things getting a little too much:
Family is everything — I’m lucky to have a 2 beautiful boys, and amazing wife and supportive parents
We need nothing — We have our own house that we never need to leave, we have a modest but really fulfilling lifestyle with no financial worry and plenty of weekend time dedicated to having fun as a family
I have a job that is flexible and affords me the creativity and freedom that I need to express myself
I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and relish the mental and emotional challenge, it’s helping me become aware of my flaws and develop them every day
With more thoughts before a reaction, more consideration before commenting, I can evolve into the person I want to be:
A Dad/ Husband that makes my family proud
Offer valuable contributions to society and use my fortunate situation to help others
Leave ego at the door, be proud of who I am and what I’ve achieved and develop everyday